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Don’t Let Stress Spoil Your Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us and offers a host of fun festivities. Some people love the holiday season, while others may feel a sense of sadness and loss during the holidays. Sometimes, when we see family members during holiday gatherings we revert to old patterns which may hurt us and remind us of upsetting experiences.

Feeling depressed or overwhelmed is not unusual during the holiday season. Upcoming dinners, parties, family or friend gatherings may cause a great deal of anxiety and stress. These feelings may be even worse for those who have experienced divorce, lost a love one, are living far from family and friends, etc. We may feel pulled in multiple different directions or unable to get everything done that is expected of us. We may not have planned in advance, leading to last minute panic about getting everything ready in time. People who reside by themselves or far away from extended family may feel lonely and anxious about holiday arrangements…some may feel left out or excluded. For those experiencing a recent breakup, painful feelings of nostalgia may emerge.

Remember, your feelings are the result of your thinking…and by changing the way you think this holiday season, you can control your emotional reactions to stressful sitations. Read on!

Below are some tips to help you beat the holiday blues:

1. Try to keep your regular routine. A change in routine can lead to additional stress. Try to exercise and stick to as normal a diet as possible. A well-known researh study at Duke University showed that going for a brisk walk for 30-minutes, three times per week can be as effective as taking antidepressants to improve mood. Exercise releases endorphins and the mood-enhancing neurotransmitter seratonin in the brain, the same chemicals that antidepressants manipulate to make people feel better. Take some steps to improve your mood today – step outside for a winter walk or run!

2. Think moderation. While the holidays may be a good excuse to drink and eat too much, we should try not to overindulge on food and/or alcohol, however tempting it is. Remember, eating and drinking may feel like they temporarily “ease the pain” of the holidays blues, but they can also lead to feelings of guilt.

3. Be realistic, try not to expect the “ideal” holiday. So many of us have an idealized version of what the holidays should be like and are very disappointed when they don’t live up to those expectations. Try to be realistic and remember in your mind that nobody has a perfect holiday or perfect family! In these difficult economic times, most people are stretched financially, which can make the holidays even more challenging. In one recent national survey, 8 out of 10 people reported feeling anxiety related to the economy. Try to make choices about money during the holiday season that reflect your values and priorities and that take into account the realities of your situation.

4. Stay connected and think happy. Make sure to leave time in your schedule to spend with friends and/or family who value you and make you happy. “Thinking happy thoughts literally creates a positive chemical change in the brain – which stimulates both positive physical and psychological benefits.” (-Deepak Chopra, in “Creating Health, How to Wake up the Body’s Intelligence“) A healthy sense of humor during stressful times can help you stay in a happy, positive mindset. Try to put a funny spin on the negative whenever possible…it will make things seem less overwhelming and will offer the opportunity for a more objective perspective.

5. Throw guilt out the window and give yourself a reality check.Try not to put unreasonable pressure on yourself to be happy, to rejoice, or even to enjoy the holidays. If you overindulge, say no to an invitation or request, don’t feel badly about it. Give yourself a break this holiday season! Ask yourself the question: “Am I viewing my circumstances through an accurate lens, or am I blowing things out of proportion?” It’s easy to lose perspective and become emotional during the holiday season.
6. Don’t be alone, if you don’t want to. If you anticipate spending the holidays alone, try to volunteer somewhere, in a soup kitchen, at an animal shelter, with children who are in group homes, or the elderly in various facilities. People will surely appreciate your time and effort, you will most likely feel better about yourself…and you’ll have company.

7. Focus on today, not yesterday.There’s something about being with family and old friends that makes us become who we were and not who we are. When you find yourself reverting to old childhood patterns when with family members, try to walk away for a minute and remember who you are now. Also remember that it’s not necessary to play the same role as you did when you were younger, even if others are encouraging you to do so by their behaviors.

8. Just say no.It’s ok to say “no” when you’re asked to do more than you can. It’s fine to say no to some invitations and fine to say no to those asking for favors. Remember, this is your holiday too!

9. Ask for help. Holidays are often a time people attempt to take on too much, do too much on their own. It’s ok to ask for help from family and friends. Whether it be for decorating, shopping, cooking, or a shoulder to lean on, ask, often people are more than happy to lend a hand.

10. Be good to yourself. To reduce anxiety, make your choices and feel good about them, without second-guessing yourself…and have realistic standards. Most importantly, reflect on the good things on your life, such as health or family and take time to feel gratitude.

Keep in mind that the point of the holiday season is to celebrate, have fun and feel gratitude for what we have, so make sure you take some time to check in with yourself and count all of the positive things in your life!

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